GAO: Census' workforce not ready for 2010

The 2010 decennial census could experience problems unless senior Census Bureau officials take a closer look at mission-critical workforce needs, the Government Accountability Office warned.

Because Census line managers fill vacant positions, senior officials are unaware of skill gaps, according to a GAO report on succession planning and management issued today.

“Without monitoring the readiness of its mission-critical workers more closely and at a higher level than line managers, the bureau may not know overall if it is acquiring the skills it needs to be prepared to conduct the 2010 decennial census,” the report states.

In the 2000 census, many contracts cost more than necessary because officials did not have enough trained contracting and program employees, according to GAO officials.

Census officials responded by saying that current practices are sufficient. “The Census Bureau has found that its present methods of assessing and ensuring appropriate levels of critical workforce capabilities are more efficient and effective than attempting to categorize and quantify ‘gaps’ within mission-critical occupations,” said David Sampson, acting deputy secretary of the Commerce Department, in a letter included in the GAO report.

However, Lisa Shames, an assistant director at GAO who contributed to the report, said, “It is something that needs to be monitored because they have the 2010 census coming up. They have a constitutional event that they need to meet.”

In conducting their analysis, GAO officials sampled efforts by Census, the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Veterans Health Administration to nurture future federal leaders. Overall, those representative agencies performed well, GAO officials said. Most have committed top leaders to succession decisions, linked efforts to strategic planning and analyzed skill-set requirements.

The few concerns include Census’ lax monitoring and scarce governmentwide communication about lessons learned.

“One thing they should be cognizant of is to better coordinate their training and development programs,” Shames said. Exchanging best practices across agencies would reduce spending in today’s tight fiscal environment, she added.

The study, conducted between June 2004 and April 2005, singled out the VHA for creating a subcommittee and high-level jobs specifically dedicated to succession.

Labor started a two-year fellowship program for MBA graduates to stock up on employees with skills in technology, business management and project management, according to the GAO report. Labor officials said they retained 89 percent of their first batch of MBA fellows after launching the program in 2002.


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